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Kabir Khan Talks About Overcoming 83’s Setback with Chandu Champion

It’s been three long years since a Kabir Khan film last graced theatres. Following the underwhelming box office performance of 83, the director is making his return with another film inspired by a real sports story—Chandu Champion, a biopic about soldier-turned-para athlete Murlikant Petkar. As the film’s release nears, Khan opens up to DNA about his expectations, the creative process behind the film, and the emotional aftermath of 83’s lackluster reception.

Murlikant Petkar, the subject of Chandu Champion, has led an extraordinary life. Originally a dangal (traditional wrestling) champion, Petkar joined the Indian Army with aspirations of Olympic glory and emerged as a top-notch boxer. His journey took a dramatic turn during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War, where he survived nine bullet wounds but was left paralyzed. Petkar’s resilience didn’t wane, and he pivoted to swimming, eventually capturing a gold medal at the Paralympic Games. Kabir Khan remarks that Petkar’s dramatic life made his work easier yet challenging. “The inherent drama in his life makes you sit up and take notice, and that is a great advantage. The challenge lies in maintaining that drama and not letting it slip when narrating his story,” Khan says.

Just like Chandu Champion, Khan’s previous venture 83 also portrayed a true sports story, chronicling the Indian cricket team’s historic 1983 World Cup victory. However, the film faced an unfortunate fate at the box office, largely attributed to the lockdowns and restrictions enforced during Covid-19’s third wave in India. Reflecting on this, Khan says, “What happened with 83 is a true test of a filmmaker’s strength and conviction. Despite being in the industry for so many years, I faced a harsh reality. I knew the craft was strong, but the timing of its release was unbelievably bad. It was quite depressing.”

Kabir Khan candidly admits that the commercial failure of 83 left him feeling despondent. “I was depressed for about a month or two. Then, the film hit OTT platforms and garnered an overwhelming response.

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. That’s when I realized hardly anyone had seen it due to the initial release issues,” he shares. However, the filmmaker found solace beyond box office numbers. “I looked back at my older films and realized that I had forgotten their box office earnings but vividly remembered the audience responses. That’s how 83 will be judged in history. It remains one of my most loved films. Even now, four years later, I regularly receive messages about it.”

Choosing to direct another sports biopic after 83’s setback might seem counterintuitive to many, but not to Khan. “Logic would have suggested steering clear of another true sports story. What happened with 83 should have made me try something else. But no, Chandu Champion gives me goosebumps every time I think about it. It compels me to make this film. That gut instinct, which guided me before, is what I will continue to trust,” the director asserts with conviction.

Chandu Champion features Kartik Aaryan in the lead role, supported by a cast that includes Bhuvan Arora, Yashpal Sharma, Vijay Raaz, Rajpal Yadav, and Palak Lalwani. The film, directed by Kabir Khan, is scheduled for theatrical release on June 14.

For Kabir Khan, the journey from 83 to Chandu Champion is a testimony to his resilience and dedication to storytelling. Despite the emotional and professional hurdles following 83’s performance, he remains steadfast in his belief in true stories, especially those embedded within the world of sports, which continue to captivate and inspire.

As he gears up for Chandu Champion’s release, one can’t help but admire Khan’s unwavering passion for his craft and his ability to find strength in the narratives he chooses to bring to life on screen. This latest venture promises to be yet another riveting tale of human spirit and determination, much like the extraordinary life of Murlikant Petkar that it depicts.